West Main Street at the center of Old Louisville downtown is at the heart of the cultural district of Louisville featuring the second largest collection of cast-iron facades in the United States.
Over a century ago, cast iron made it possible to build beautiful decorative features that were too expensive to carve out of stone. The sidewalk bricks in front of the columns are placed sideways and flecked with iron to make the cast iron buildings easily identifiable. To doubly ascertain you carry along as you walk by a magnet which is most likely to stick to buildings whose facades are cast iron. Ironwood trees grow in front of cast iron buildings surrounded by replicas of authentic coal hole covers. A stand of three trees are planted together thus indicating that the building is masonry. Cast iron walking sticks and tree rings give hints as to the original uses of nearby buildings.
West Main Street has more examples of 19th century cast-iron architecture than any other place in America except New York’s SoHo. The façade of the Hart Block, a five story building designed in 1884 at a foundry is a jigsaw puzzle of bolting cast iron pieces together. This early Victorian pre-fab construction allowed for large windows and greater height. The tiny St Charles Hotel, constructed before 1832 is the oldest here.. A third generation Main Street building, it was preceded by Fort Nelson which was followed by log huts. Three story brick buildings came in next and lined the streets at the time of Civil War.
Fort Nelson, a haven for settlers in the late 1700s once stood between 6th and 8th streets on Main before being ravaged by fire and tornado more than a century ago. This site was the terminus of the Wilderness Road, the first overland route west from Virginia across the Appalachian Mountains through the Cumberland Gap, and the site of the first permanent settlement in what would become Louisville.
At the northwest corner of 7th and Main is a pocket park, studded with historical markers and architectural cues from nearby structures. One of the street’s first restorations which helped speed its renaissance is ‘Stairways’ housing the Main Street Association Visitor and Information Center. A block of the street still preserving much of its 19th century look is the 100 block whose building fronts are exactly as they were in the mid-1800. Both ends of the building are of much interest. The first street led grow light wholesale end shows a fascinating Renaissance revival building built in 1852 with six unique bays. The Second Street corner is the site of the original Galt House Hotel which was burnt to the ground in 1865. The sprawling Galt House Hotel Complex at Fourth and Main Streets including offices, apartments, retail spaces, restaurants and the city’s largest hotel convention facilities has twin office towers topped with whimsical rotating search lights. The Second Street Bridge otherwise called George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge from which it’s one mile to Indiana has an art deco entrance designed in 1929 by Paul Gret, architect of Cincinnati’s Union Station.
40 stories of glass, steel and booming business designed by Harrison and Abromovitz of New York in 1972 constitutes what is called the National City Tower. The first national bank was headquartered here before it was acquired by National City Bank, First National Bank of Louisville. Naturalist John Audubon lived on this site 200 years ago when it hosted the Indian Queen Hostelry.
Also here is the Science Center/ IMAXX theatre a 19th century warehouse full of science arcades and demonstrations such as an Egyptian mummy’s tomb, a Foucault pendulum, and plenty of hands-on displays appealing especially so to kids. Also to be seen are exhibits on space exploration and the human body. Constructed of limestone and cast iron for use as a wholesale dry goods store in 1878, it is an excellent example of adaptive reuse. Cork Marcheschi’s geometric kinetic sculpture in front projects a stunning street market day or night – as skies darken, photo-electric sensors activate its colored lights. Worlds of wonder are preserved on thre